U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack

In a morning conference call with farm reporters US Secretary of Agricultue Tom Vilsack discussed the stress on farm country as the most wide-spread drought in seven decades intensifies.  August 15th is the first day when crop insurance premiums become due though the Ag Secretary points out that many of the companies have been working with growers on the deadline…

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According to Vilsack the department is seeking additional flexibility…

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The request is not something insurance companies are not required to do but the department hopes to create partnership on the matter…

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The Secreatry also announced the use of his discretionary authority to allow additional acres under CRP to be used for haying or grazing under emergency conditions, to allow growers to modify current EQIP (equip) contracts to allow for prescribed grazing, livestock watering facilities, water conservation and other conservation activities to address drought conditions and finally….  authorized haying and grazing of Wetlands Reserve Program areas in drought-affected areas where such haying and grazing is consistent with conservation of wildlife habitat and wetlands.
Thus far in 2012, USDA has designated 1,297 counties across 29 states as disaster areas, making all qualified farm operators in the areas eligible for low-interest emergency loans.

Click to hear a portion of the conference call with USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack…

 

 

Agriculture Secretary Vilsack Announces New Obama Administration
Efforts to Assist Farmers and Ranchers Impacted by Drought
WASHINGTON, July 23, 2012 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced
new flexibility and assistance in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s major
conservation programs to get much-needed help to livestock producers as the most
wide-spread drought in seven decades intensifies in the United States. Vilsack
also announced plans to encourage crop insurance companies to provide a short
grace period for farmers on unpaid insurance premiums, as some farming families
can be expected to struggle to make ends meet at the close of the crop year.”President Obama and I are committed to getting help to producers as soon as
possible and sustaining the success of America’s rural communities through these
difficult times,” said Vilsack. “Beginning today, USDA will open opportunities
for haying and grazing on lands enrolled in conservation programs while
providing additional financial and technical assistance to help landowners
through this drought. And we will deliver greater peace of mind to farmers
dealing with this worsening drought by encouraging crop insurance companies to
work with farmers through this challenging period. As severe weather and natural
disasters continue to threaten the livelihoods of thousands of our farming
families, we want you and your communities to know that USDA stands with
you.”

The assistance announced uses the Secretary of Agriculture’s existing
authority to help create and encourage flexibility within four USDA programs:
the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), the Environmental Quality Incentives
Program (EQIP), the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP), and the Federal Crop
Insurance Program.

Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)
To assist farmers and
ranchers affected by drought, Vilsack is using his discretionary authority to
allow additional acres under CRP to be used for haying or grazing under
emergency conditions. CRP is a voluntary program that provides producers annual
rental payments on their land in exchange for planting resource conserving crops
on cropland to help prevent erosion, provide wildlife habitat and improve the
environment. CRP acres can already be used for emergency haying and grazing
during natural disasters to provide much needed feed to livestock. Given the
widespread nature of this drought, forage for livestock is already substantially
reduced. The action today will allow lands that are not yet classified as “under
severe drought” but that are “abnormally dry” to be used for haying and grazing.
This will increase available forage for livestock. Haying and grazing will only
be allowed following the local primary nesting season, which has already passed
in most areas. Especially sensitive lands such as wetlands, stream buffers and
rare habitats will not be eligible.

Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)
To assist
farmers and ranchers affected by drought, Vilsack is using his discretionary
authority to provide assistance to farmers and ranchers by allowing them to
modify current EQIP contracts to allow for prescribed grazing, livestock
watering facilities, water conservation and other conservation activities to
address drought conditions. EQIP is a voluntary program that provides financial
and technical assistance to agricultural producers on their land to address
natural resource concerns on agricultural and forest land. The USDA Natural
Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will work closely with producers to modify
existing EQIP contracts to ensure successful implementation of planned
conservation practices. Where conservation activities have failed because of
drought, NRCS will look for opportunities to work with farmers and ranchers to
re-apply those activities. In the short term, funding will be targeted towards
hardest hit drought areas.

Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP)
To assist farmers and
ranchers affected by drought, Vilsack is using his discretionary authority to
authorize haying and grazing of WRP easement areas in drought-affected areas
where such haying and grazing is consistent with conservation of wildlife
habitat and wetlands. WRP is a voluntary conservation easement program that
provides technical and financial assistance to agricultural producers to restore
and protect valuable wetland resources on their property. For producers with
land currently enrolled in WRP, NRCS has expedited its Compatible Use
Authorization (CUA) process to allow for haying and grazing. The compatible use
authorization process offers NRCS and affected producers with the management
flexibility to address short-term resource conditions in a manner that promotes
both the health of the land and the viability of the overall farming
operation.

Federal Crop Insurance Program
To help producers who may
have cash flow problems due to natural disasters, USDA will encourage crop
insurance companies to voluntarily forego charging interest on unpaid crop
insurance premiums for an extra 30 days, to November 1, 2012, for spring crops.
Policy holders who are unable to pay their premiums in a timely manner accrue an
interest penalty of 1.25 percent per month until payment is made. In an attempt
to help producers through this difficult time, Vilsack sent a letter to crop
insurance companies asking them to voluntarily defer the accrual of any interest
on unpaid spring crop premiums by producers until November. In turn, to assist
the crop insurance companies, USDA will not require crop insurance companies to
pay uncollected producer premiums until one month later.

Thus far in 2012, USDA has designated 1,297 counties across 29 states as
disaster areas, making all qualified farm operators in the areas eligible for
low-interest emergency loans. Increasingly hot and dry conditions from
California to Delaware have damaged or slowed the maturation of crops such as
corn and soybeans, as well as pasture- and range-land. Vilsack has instructed
USDA subcabinet leaders to travel to affected areas to augment ongoing
assistance from state-level USDA staff and provide guidance on the department’s
existing disaster resources. To deliver assistance to those who need it most,
the Secretary recently reduced the interest rate for emergency loans from 3.75
percent to 2.25 percent, while lowering the reduction in the annual rental
payment to producers on CRP acres used for emergency haying or grazing from 25
percent to 10 percent. Vilsack has also simplified the Secretarial disaster
designation process and reduced the time it takes to designate counties affected
by disasters by 40 percent.

USDA agencies have been working for weeks with state and local officials, as
well as individuals, businesses, farmers and ranchers, as they begin the process
of helping to get people back on their feet. USDA offers a variety of resources
for states and individuals affected by the recent disasters. For additional
information and updates about USDA’s efforts, please visit www.usda.gov/drought.

The Obama Administration, with Agriculture Secretary Vilsack’s leadership,
has worked tirelessly to strengthen rural America, maintain a strong farm safety
net, and create opportunities for America’s farmers and ranchers. U.S.
agriculture is currently experiencing one of its most productive periods in
American history thanks to the productivity, resiliency, and resourcefulness of
our producers. A strong farm safety net is important to sustain the success of
American agriculture. USDA’s crop insurance program currently insures 264
million acres, 1.14 million policies, and $110 billion worth of liability on
about 500,000 farms. In response to tighter financial markets, USDA has expanded
the availability of farm credit, helping struggling farmers refinance loans. In
the past 3 years, USDA provided 103,000 loans to family farmers totaling $14.6
billion. Over 50 percent of the loans went to beginning and socially
disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.